Monday, January 14, 2008

Terminator: Rudy Giuliani approved this episode

Spoilers for the second episode of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (and I'm debating whether, for brevity's sake, to refer to it in the future as "Terminator," "Sarah Connor" or, as one Fox publicist did, "T:TSCC") coming up just as soon as I go to the Apple Store to do a private web search...

Well, the night one numbers are in, and they are very good. Thanks to a lot of promotion, a hell of a football game as a lead-in (go Giants!) and the lack of anything resembling competition on the other networks, it averaged more than 18 million viewers and got the best demo rating for any network series premiere in the last three years. I don't know how much of a lead-in "Prison Break" is these days, but I suspect the show to at east hold its own against "Briefcase or No Briefcase." While I'm not exactly a fan of the show at the moment, I'm glad to see any scripted series do that well, especially at a time when the networks are trying to act like they don't need writers.

As to the episode itself, it didn't do much to change my opinion one way or the other from the pilot. Glau's still interesting in her calmness ("Please remain calm"), Headey seems far too wimpy as Sarah, Dekker doesn't make an impression one way or the other and the action's loud and busy but not necessarily that thrilling. Some specific points:
  • I've been willing to fanwank all the issues with the T2 and T3 timelines, when Skynet went up, when Sarah died of cancer (which she still has, in the most overt nod that T3 isn't being ignored; it was just erased by the time jump), etc. But somebody want to explain to me how Cromartie's head made it through the time portal, when one of the cardinal rules of the franchise -- up to and including last week's naked trip to 2007 -- is that only living things (or dead things hidden inside living things) can make the jump? Also, how exactly did the rest of Cromartie's body end up in a dump for all this time? Wouldn't you think that the FBI would have picked over every ounce of debris from the explosion that appeared to claim the lives of two fugitives and a school shooter? Wouldn't that skeleton have been analyzed and repurposed in the same way Cyberdyne was going to use the T1 Terminator's arm to create Skynet?
  • As I mentioned in my column review, the 9/11 reference, while maybe necessary, was clumsy. It's awkward anytime a largely fantasy-based fictional character gets mixed up in that tragedy, whether it's here or Spider-Man being asked why he didn't stop it. The James Bond producers at least had the good sense to refer to 9/11 obliquely in "Die Another Day" (where it's implied, but never said outright, that 007 was in captivity with the North Koreans at the time, because how could the great James Bond allow such a tragedy to take place?).
  • I'm glad they're revisiting the concept of Sarah's time living with various revolutionaries as she trained herself and John for the coming of Judgment Day. Enrique was, I'm assuming, supposed to be the same guy Sarah went to for weapons after they busted out of the mental hospital in T2. I'm hoping he's not the last of these guys to pop up.
  • The producers have said they don't want to do a Terminator of the Week formula, but between Cromartie wandering around trying to assemble himself and this new concept of Terminators with specific missions in the past, I expect we're going to see a lot of them. The latter concept seems kind of dumb, by the way; how hard would it be to give every Terminator a baseline setting that featured photos of Sarah and John, in the unlikely event they stumbled across them while doing something else? (That's kind of what happens in T3, where the female Terminator finds John while trying to kill somebody else.)
  • On the other hand, the concept of Cameron only taking orders from John -- and not this John -- is an interesting twist on the T2 dynamic, where young John was able to get Arnie to stop killing people, use dumb slang, etc.
  • Between the very public computer search and then the visit to his former soon-to-be stepdad (nicely played by Dean Winters), John's just not trying very hard to stay hidden. Also, is Sonya Walger (Dean's wife) trying to set some kind of records for most simultaneous primetime roles. She's got another season of "Tell Me You Love Me" coming up whenever the strike's over, presumably she'll pop up on "Lost" in either past, present or future, and I doubt we've seen the last of her here, given the connection to Winters' character.
What did everybody else think? You more or less intrigued than last night?

36 comments:

J said...

You know what really won me over about this episode? The little moments between Glau and the "lookout girl." It was unnecessary in a good way.

I decided from moment one not to think too hard about this one. Headey does brooding okay. The dynamic between the three leads has possibilities. Series is meeting my nonexistant expectations.

chris w said...

I'm fairly certain I'm only tuning into this show because of the lack of returning shows due to the writers' strike. But so far the show has been able to keep two paces ahead of the Mediocrity Monster coming to eat it up (sorry for that lame metaphor).

While it isn't immensely compelling, I am finding the show extremely watchable. I have to say, I'm pretty damned intrigued as to what Cameron's true nature is.

My main complaint is Lena Heady and Dekker. She doesn't project the scary near-crazy intensity that Linda Hamilton had but comes off as a wimp pretending to have that intensity. The solution might be to have her do something extremely hardcore but what they may be I haven't the foggiest.

And they need to give John Connor something to do other than just sitting around.

So I'll stay with it.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The solution might be to have her do something extremely hardcore but what they may be I haven't the foggiest.

Letting her kill Enrique might've helped, in that regard.

curious george said...

This will wear thin, soon, I think, and much "fanwanking" will be required. If the good guys in the future can send someone back to 1963 to build a time machine into a bank vault for possible - possible! - use, by someone three decades later, why can't the bad guys send a terminator to kill John Connor's grandmother or great grandmother and avoid the apparent hassle of killing John Connor in his own present? Heck, they could even send one back two or three years before Kyle Reese met Sarah to kill Sarah since we are playing fast and loose with the time lines. With each successive terminator that fails, this will become more and more glaring. But any series that has to contort its origins so much just so that it can wipe out a second sequel and place its characters in the viewers' present seems overly unnecessary in the first place.

Anonymous said...

when Sarah died of cancer (which she still has, in the most overt nod that T3 isn't being ignored; it was just erased by the time jump)

Umm... didn't T3 say she died in 1997? And the first episode of the series took place in 1999. The producers have said, flat, out, T3 never happened. Its just easier that way.

TiVo Queen said...

I think someone needs to make me care whether John lives or dies. As far as I'm concerned, his death just means someone else gets to rise up and lead the resistance. I need more than just his mother's belief that he's worth caring about.

BigTed said...

The Terminator's head didn't really have to pass through the time portal -- it could have just sat around and waited for the time travelers to show up. (That's what happened to Bender on an episode of "Futurama.")

On the other hand, if the Connors wanted an object sent back in time, they could just go to San Francisco and put it in the "Journeyman" guy's pocket. (Or while John was hanging out in mall parking lots, he could have broken into Doc Brown's DeLorean.)

Or else John could just remember everything bad that happens, and -- assuming they don't stop SkyNet this time around -- when Future John sends Summer Glau back in time again, he can program her to prevent it all. Couldn't he? It's all very confusing now.

notjon said...

I liked the first episode but during the second episode I started thinking about all the problems with the storylines and I got thrown off.
Glau will keep me watching though.

Anyway, after two episodes, here's my guess for one of the series big reveals:
In the future, John has some kind of wife or girlfriend and Cameron has been programmed with her personality, looks, or memories.
It's more Robocop than Terminator, I know, but I think that's where they're going for some reason.

TiVo Queen said...

notjon...totally agreed! Felt the same way right after the pilot and the second episode just cemented it.

http://tivoqueen.blogspot.com/2008/01/crazy-terminator-predictions.html

Ken said...

To explain how the head made it through: the writers just don't care -- either not enough to rewatch (or watch) the movies, or enough to respect the material. They're making a big-time TV show, after all!

Anonymous said...

Ugh, this Sarah just sucks. I don't know if it's the actress, the writing, or a combination of both, but she's almost unwatchable. Were is the toughness? Were is the kick butt and take names later idealism? And the way she talks about John (all that spiel about "he'll leave me" not "he won't save the world") is creepy. Mom seems to have a small need for some therapy.

And though I think Glau is watchable, the difference between the flirty teen girl trying to get John's attention on the pilot and the blank terminator of the second episode was a little unbelievable. How could she flirt and smile and then the next day have absolutely no discernable social skills?
And the entire time line thing makes me crazy. If the computers are smart enough to take over the future world, why aren't they smart enough to send 20 terminators to take out John instead of just one? Why doesn't future John send a team of protector terminators instead one?
If there was anything else on, I probably would not bother with this show anymore. As it is, I will probably give it another try, mostly for Glau, as she is the only watchable actor on the show.

Tom said...

What won me over?

"What's with the trespassing? And the visor? Chet?"

Ah, yes. The elegant beauty of the written word...

zodin2008 said...

I don't get your Giuliani dig but politics shouldn't enter posts about TV.

I have to agree with the general sentiment about Lena Headey.

My brother had seen episode #2 in advance and he "claimed" Sarah Conner suddenly had a sense of humor. I didn't see it.

I see some people complaining she's not Linda Hamilton intense enough. Let me explain why that's not going to work: You cannot have a weekly Television series with a character acting like Linda Hamilton from T2.

Linda Hamilton's T2 performance is probably one of the most intense and angry in film history, and you cannot have a character like that for 22 weeks every year. It's too much and will kill the audience.

You need Sarah to be intense, but with a sense of humor too. Of course, headey is neither Linda Hamilton intense NOR has a sense of humor. She's blah.

is it just me, or does Headey look like some sort of hybrid between two deceased "24 actresses: Sara (Nina Myers) Clarke and Leslie (Teri Bauer) Hope? She reminds me strongly of both - particularly Clarke.

Overall, this show is a lot of fun. I shouldn't be surprised that Alan wants to nitpick every second of it to death. I guess I just don't belive that every show has to be on the level of brilliance of "Lost". Some shows can have a simpler paradigm.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The Terminator's head didn't really have to pass through the time portal -- it could have just sat around and waited for the time travelers to show up. (That's what happened to Bender on an episode of "Futurama.")

But it did pass through the portal. In the pilot, you see the head get blown off by Sarah's gun and go flying towards the time bubble, and it pops out of the bubble at the start of this one. The idea is that the body sat around for all those years waiting for instructions.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I don't get your Giuliani dig but politics shouldn't enter posts about TV.

Rudy (whose candidacy I otherwise have no opinion of) mentions 9/11 a lot; this episode spent a few scenes on 9/11. And anything should be able to enter any discussion of TV, since TV covers so many different subjects.

Overall, this show is a lot of fun. I shouldn't be surprised that Alan wants to nitpick every second of it to death. I guess I just don't belive that every show has to be on the level of brilliance of "Lost". Some shows can have a simpler paradigm.

Ahh, the "nitpicking" complaint. Whenever I'm not 100 percent over the moon about a show -- including, amusingly enough, "Lost" season three -- a fan or 12 will show up to claim that my criticisms are just nitpicking.

As I said at the top of this post, I have some fundamental issues with the show that haven't changed -- notably how two of the three main characters are really boring -- and since that was the case, I was going to talk about some other, smaller details in this episode. That's not nitpicking; that's trying to have a discussion about something different.

Kristin said...

I *loved* this 2nd episode. Better than the 1st, and I really liked the first one. The whole scene with the dead-head terminator kicked ass. It was surprising, smart, and very movie-like.

I also loved the scene where Sarah put terminator girl in the chair and dumped her out the window.

Alan, as for a few of your complaints:

1) The head/body did not make the time jump. It was buried in the rubble of the bank that blew up. That was my impression. And that was how the body ended up in the dump. The bank rubble probably was removed with some kind of machine...not human beings. No one noticed. Why would FBI agents search through the rubble when there was no way 3 people could have escaped from the vault in a huge explosion? What would be the point of searching? As for the head, it maybe got crushed into the ground and run over by the machine that cleared away bank rubble or created the freeway.

2) I didn't think the 9/11 reference was clumsy. Sarah thought 20 grand was pretty expensive for IDs. They don't understand why she is so dense. Times have changed since 9/11 with the tightening of security making fake IDs harder to create. It seems obvious to me they would make some reference to this.

This show is not just good because there is nothing new on tv right now. It's good because it really does not follow the patterns of a regular tv series. I don't know exactly where it's headed, but I'm finding myself caught up in the story...which is refreshing!

Sometimes I wonder if people don't come to this blog to bitch rather than discuss. I don't mind debating the finer points, but I also like to chat about what rocked...and I hardly ever find that kind of comment here anymore.

Kristin said...

Alan, I just saw your comment about the head. I didn't see the head pop out of the time bubble. I only saw them in the 1st episode appear in the middle of traffic. When did this happen???

Nancy said...

No, the head definitely flew out of the time portal bubble. My husband and I both noticed that glaring continuity error. Interestingly enough, the time portal bubble the head flew out of was a different bubble than the one that delivered the three leads naked onto the California highway. They arrived at night and the head flew out during the day, didn't it?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Sometimes I wonder if people don't come to this blog to bitch rather than discuss. I don't mind debating the finer points, but I also like to chat about what rocked...and I hardly ever find that kind of comment here anymore.

Perhaps you don't because most of the shows that rock have been off the air for weeks or months because of the strike. And that said, just looking over the last week of the blog, recent episodes of "The Wire" and "30 Rock" (plus the old "Cupid" episodes) have gotten fairly rapturous response from both me and the commenters. That we're middling to negative on a lot of other things speaks less to anyone's overall state of mind than it does to the current depleted state of TV, where even the new episodes we do get tend to be compromised by the strike in some way.

Alan Sepinwall said...

You know what really won me over about this episode? The little moments between Glau and the "lookout girl." It was unnecessary in a good way.

Yeah, I wanted to mention that but forgot to. Cameron modeling the other girl's mannerisms was very funny, and felt very much a Terminator thing to do.

Bobman said...

And though I think Glau is watchable, the difference between the flirty teen girl trying to get John's attention on the pilot and the blank terminator of the second episode was a little unbelievable. How could she flirt and smile and then the next day have absolutely no discernable social skills?

This was my biggest problem with the episode(aside from the goofy body searching out the head gag). Glau's Terminator seemed so human in the first episode, but once they get her away from that school setting she's suddenly the stereotypical cyborg who has no idea how to act human. I'm fine with one or the other, but you can't have one AND THEN the other.

Other than that, it's still not terrible and not great. In a strike-depleted world I'm sure I'll stick with it for lack of anything better.

Kristin said...

Not just shows that are stellar all the way through. I meant, why not discuss more about the good points and speculate what might be going on? I don't know. Maybe that blog is somewhere else.

I do appreciate that you talk about the good and the bad of shows, but I don't think this show is so terrible as to deserve nothing but a lot of negative.

I would have liked this show whether or not there was a strike. This is no "Bionic Woman" debacle. The writing is much better as is the acting.

As for the head problem, I still have both episodes on the TiVO. I'll have to rewatch and see what I can discern. Considering right when they went through the portal (or was it right after?) the girl terminator reiterated what can go through the portal, I don't think they would so blatantly break that rule.

notjon said...

I also had a problem with the flirting in the first episode, but I think they're going to explain it as Cameron being some new model with some kind of artificial human emotions. They've hinted at that with lines like, "You're different. You're calmer." and such.
Plus it would fit in with Tivoqueen and my nearly identical prediction (great minds, I guess) of the series revealing that Cameron was based on John Connor's future wife.

Tivoqueen, I also questioned the whole "sex-bot" idea. However, while the question of whether the Terminators have sex (just how intricate is that living tissue?) is an interesting one, I think it's one the series would never, and should never, touch. I can just imagine the future story arcs that slippery slope would lead to.

And I never thought that he'd meet the real Cameron in this timeline. That's really interesting. I assume he'd meet her in like the last scene of the series. But I like the idea of the Terminator meeting her "real" self.

curious george said...

It's too bad they focused on this era. I would rather this be the John Connor Chronicles with a more interesting lead, then we would avoid all the Headey/Hamilton issues. Plus, if this is the direction the show is going, the most interesting moment in the continuity will never be shown: When John Connor meets Kyle Reese. I'm not sure whether John knows who his father is (although the dangerous use of that surname as an alias may give him an idea), but either way, at some point, he has to meet Kyle Reese.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I suspect the show to at east hold its own against "Briefcase or No Briefcase."

Whoops. Fast national ratings have episode two dropping 8 million viewers from Sunday night and losing quite convincingly to Howie and the briefcase girls.

Either people were too excited/worn out by the Giants game to change the channel Sunday night, or they just didn't like what they saw.

I predict a post-Idol airing, and soon, cause that's a yooge drop-off, even given the different lead-ins.

Andrew said...

Gee, Alan, why do you have to be so critical? Why can't you focus on only the good parts and ignore the bad? Sure, maybe you felt the bad outweighed the good, but as the operator of a public blog and profession television critic, isn't it your responsibility to fill our lives with rainbows and puppydogs? How dare you attempt to identify where a show goes wrong and what can be changed to improve it!

Whew... OK. I am all out of sarcasm. on to the show:

My fundamental problem with the show is simply that they have created for themselves too many possibilities. The original Terminator movie was great because it said that the resistence sent back one man, Kyle Reese, to stop the Terminator that Skynet sent back, from killing Sarah Connor. Nice and simple. Then they decided to make a sequel, where Skynet had sent back ANOTHER terminator, so the resistence sent back a terminator of their own. Fine. Assuming Kyle Reese had to be sent back in order to be the father of John Connor, all of that is perfectly acceptable. Had this show followed the formula that Skynet sent back a Terminator, so the resistence sent back Summer Glau, I'd be fine with it.

But no. There are, theoretically, dozens, if not hundreds, of Terminators sent to the past for a vairety of missions. Admittedly, if I had a time machine, I would come up with a whole bunch of mischief and shenanigans, too, but it makes things so ungodly open-ended!

Add to that the fact that the resistence, the last pocket of free human beings left on earth, waging a war with the machines, sends trained personnel back to hang out and stare at a "Hang in There, Baby" poster for a couple of decades? Or rig a time machine into a bank vault, along with building a futuristic ray-gun?

The simple battle of Terminator vs. Terminator should be enough. Add in the FBI guy and Ryan O'Reilly/Dennis/Johnny Gavin on the chase, and you don't need a Terminator-of-the week, or a staggering population of resistence fighters whose sole job is to wait. It is JUST TOO MUCH.

As to the head time-traveling with them, not sure if it did or not. I didn't notice. But the head would have still been covered with Owain Yeoman's head-skin (head-skin? Really?) so it, theoretically, could have made the trip. Can't explain where the skin went. Maybe cats ate his face?

zodin2008 said...

Since "American Idol", "Dancing with the Stars" and "Survivor" are currently the 3 most unexplainably popular shows in my book, let me put "Deal" and Howie Mandel right up there.

Possibly the least interesting and silliest game show of all time, yet this is the one game show where NBC gets ratings.

On the flipside, "The Weakest Link" was one of the greatest game shows of all time and the host was hilariously mean - yet no one watched.

The average Television audience out there continues to shock me.

zodin2008 said...

Here's the problem: if you have a just about 1 Terminator chasing the Conners, episode to episode, you get "The Fugitive" meets "The Pretender".

Yes, it should be that to a certain extent, but they had to change certain elements to make this viable as a weekly television series.

And Andrew, just as it's Alan's right to nitpick a show to death, it's our right as the audience to call him out if we disagree and feel he's overdoing it. That's what makes for interesting blogs.

I also have to agree that the 9/11 conversation between Sarah and the hood guys, was really well done. I had the same reaction as Kristin, frankly.

And I guess I think since we are discussing a television show, potentially starting a political argument seems better suited at The Daily Kos.

BigTed said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to cause confusion. The Terminator's head clearly went forward in time through a "time bubble." My point was that the writers didn't have to negate the saga's rules by having that happen.

As for the competition with "Deal Or No Deal," I Tivo'd both shows last night. (Using the fast-forward function, you can watch an hour of any nighttime game show in ten minutes.) And all the Briefcase Ladies were wearing even more spectacularly low-cut dresses than usual. In the race for the eyeballs of your average sci-fi fan, I call that fighting dirty.

Tom said...

Regarding "Deal or No Deal": It has an audience because, simple as it is, the show works. It puts human greed on display, either egged on or restrained by family and friends. It's a formula. It has cheesecake. People enjoy watching it.

Regarding "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles": It is going to have a tough time keeping an audience because it does not work. (So far. Nothing I've seen so far gives me hope that it's going to improve much.) The first two episodes were a hash of explosions and characters in search of a story. It's especially aggravating since it's based on an excellent pair of movies whose fundamental principles -- both in content and storytelling style -- it flagrantly ignores.

Ken said...

Ironically, the writers may have been trying to avoid "annoying nitpicking" about how to bring the Terminator forward. They couldn't leave the whole thing in the junkyard, because the head is too interesting, and wouldn't have been waiting all these years. So they came up with this brilliant idea, which violates the rules of the universe they're exploiting.

It's like they saw or heard that people have to go through naked, but don't know why. And since nudity is an attention-getter on network TV, they definitely wanted to include that, no matter what. Like I said, lack of respect for the material.

Number Five said...

I liked that they brought up 9/11 as the naturally most pertinent event to someone who skipped from 1999 to 2007, but it was ironic since the Terminator movies and now TV series are based on the opposite fear, that our own technology will enslave and destroy us.

On the other hand, in real life 2007 features technology, especially of the network/Internet/wireless variety, that is even closer to the fictional Skynet than ever before. The scene with John in the mall store came close to evoking this, and I hope the show explores it further.

Still mediocre overall. There's room to grow, but if Lena Headey doesn't get any better it may not matter. Hopefully she, and the show, will.

Anonymous said...

The question: Will it last longer than Drive?

Anonymous said...

Given that they're now in California in 2007, will they ever cross paths (or will their ship pass in the night) with that state's current governor?

Would be a great cameo. Or at least an offhand in-joke.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Kristin, that blog you are looking for IS someplace else. Please go FIND IT, rather than complaining about this one.

"Headey seems far too wimpy as Sarah, Dekker doesn't make an impression one way or the other..." Alan, I completely agree, and that is why I can't watch this show. Even with the dearth of good TV fare, I can't watch something this uninvolving just because it's scripted. There are lots of shows on DVD that I missed the first time around waiting to be watched, after all. (I am in the midst of The Wire Season 1 in all its glory.)

Kristin said...

Wow, anonymous, thanks for that. As far as I know, this is still a place for free discussion. I thought I was pretty kind in my comments.

It was the complaints in the *commenting* that were driving me nuts. I can find value in reading what Alan has to say...he mostly tries to be fair and well-spoken in his analysis...which is his job. But to have 90% of the comments end up focusing on the negative stuff gets to me after awhile. Especially when I don't think so much negativity was deserved.

I want some balanced debate...but I feel many commenters come here just to rip on a show.

By the way, since I have a very short memory, I rewatched Monday night's ep...I had fast-forwarded through the recap the first time around. The head does come through the time portal as related here. I have two thoughts on that:

1) The head did have flesh on it in the bank vault, although some of the machinery was exposed. The explosion burnt off the flesh while at the same time the head was propelled through the time bubble. Not sure how that helps, but it did have flesh on it at one point.

2) We don't know what happens when machinery goes through the time bubble uncovered by flesh. We just know that 'it can't.' There is enough there to play with that we could assume the 'can't' means the time bubble will render it inoperable when it comes through to the other side. So, since the body did not go through the portal, the whole of the terminator was not ruined by going through the time bubble.

I also am wondering about this 'new' terminator chick. The bad terminator from the first episode did not recognize her...or her model. If you remember what his 'view' had on screen, he couldn't identify her. This means she may have come from further in the future than we are thinking. Also, this means the time portal could possibly have other effects that we are unaware of because it was 'her' time bubble. Perhaps when Cameron encounters the 'old' terminator again there will be an explanation.

I just don't see why they would blatantly break a cardinal rule that any Terminator fan is aware of without having an explanation. So I wait to see what happens...

If anyone saw the credits, James Cameron's production company is attached to the show. I doubt he would let them completely ruin the Terminator franchise by wreaking havoc with the 'rules.'